The combination of great musical performances and wonderful transient, rhythmic and tonal sonic qualities are why this mix is one of my top go-to reference mixes when evaluating the acoustical properties of a playback medium or listening space. It’s a masterclass in balance, all-the-more impressive given it was live-tracked in the same acoustic space, with only a couple of solo overdubs.
Live-tracking an entire band certainly has it’s challenges, as musicians risk overplaying, and technically, a good sound may be hard to achieve with bleed everywhere. But if you nail the vibe, it’s magic. I talked with producer Jay Joyce, who tracked/engineered the record along with engineer Jason Hall, to hear more about how they did it.
Joyce placed Derek Trucks (dobro/electric guitar) in a lively sounding bathroom hallway, close mic’d with a Royer 121 for warmth along with a distantly positioned Neumann SM-69 stereo tube mic to capture the bright, reflective nature of the hallway. He had Mike Mattison (lead vox) reasonably well isolated, and the rest of the band shared the same live room. Jay spent a lot of time adjusting mic positioning and preamp choices/levels (a Neve preamp into a Sony DMX console), and as a result, what he recorded was well balanced and is almost exactly the same as the final mix. This is an excellent example of how good microphone technique can make all the difference: the audible vitality of the dobro and immersive space and presence of the rest of the band was all achieved on the way into Pro Tools. Jay did almost no mixing after the fact, other than adding some vocal gain riding, and some tape slap.
Listen to the recording through a mid-side encoder. If you focus on the dobro, and solo/mute the mid/side channels in turn, you'll observe that a lot of the direct presence is coming from the mid channel, which has much less dobro low frequency content in it when compared to the side channel. The side channel has more of the dobro's low frequency energy, further suggesting the room and mic placement was pristine. Inversely, this left room for the bass to focus more heavily in the mid channel and stay out of the side channel.
The low end is a shining example of good bass management, with bass as a supporting role. Here, the marímbula, a Caribbean bass instrument, is the glue that ties the mix together. It's strong, warm, and round below 200 Hz and has percussive but minimal tonal bite between 500 Hz - 2 kHz. It's audible, impactful, yet stays completely out of the way of the more mid-range focussed voice/guitar/percussion elements. With bass, less is often more.
Jay mentioned this record was cut in his house, a split level ranch (so the live room was partially below ground—fewer reflective glass surfaces), during a hot Nashville August day without A/C. This mix is truly a great example of tasteful musicianship and sonic craftsmanship, and though made by professionals (I mean, Derek Trucks was able to make even a fibreglass Supro Folkstar Resonator guitar sound good here), serves to highlight great records can be made at home.